What Counts Get Measured: Part 1

Measure 2Although I love Albert Einstein’s statement, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”,  our society is obsessed with numbers and measurements.  As we move more deeply into the era of “Big Data”, that obsession will only deepen and grow.  Most library statistics are outputs tied to easily countable things.  How many programs happened at Saddlebrook Branch?  How many people attended the Historical Mystery Book Club at A.V. Sorensen Branch?  How many people signed up for Summer Reading Program at Willa Cather Branch?

We had been unhappy with our program statistics for some time.  Although the branch-level statistics were broken down into various program and outreach events, the numbers were all lumped together as “Programs” in the system-level statistics.  Monthly numbers were often skewed by branch programs that had poor attendance and outreach events that touched hundreds of people.

Two events collided in late 2012 that made us take a new look at our data collection for programs and outreach.  The Omaha Public Library received an IMLS grant for community engagement that included a metrics component.  We also had a directive to move our monthly statistics gathering to LibPAS, a web-based software tool through Counting Opinions (SQUIRE), Ltd. for the 2013 fiscal year.

After meeting with Programming, Outreach, and Collection Development staff, Terry Wingate and I came up with three categories – Programs, Outreach, and Community Engagement.  Each category would be further divided into Adult, YA, and Juvenile.  The statistics collected would be the number of events and the attendance per event.  After much thought, discussion, and even more thought, we wrote these definitions for the three categories –

1.     Programs:

Programs are events that occur inside a library building.

Examples:  story times, summer reading programs, STD clinics, book clubs, computer classes

Anything from our public monthly calendars would likely be considered a program

2.     Outreach:

Outreach events occur when we take our library materials and services outside a library building.

Examples:  school visits, story times at daycares, museums, etc., booths at a school fair, participating in an after school program, having a book club in a non-library setting

3.      Community Engagement:

Community Engagement may occur inside or outside of a library building.  Community Engagement events can be arranged by the Community Outreach Department, the Adult and Youth Programming Managers, and/or branch staff members.

Examples:  Teen Job Fair, LitFest, parades (St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, Florence Days, Millard Days, etc.) , the John Bernardi Job Fair, Buy the Big O, Kidz Explore, Kwanzaa, Benson Boo Bash

Since Community Engagement is a new concept/category for our staff, the following example illustrates the often complex interplay between events that happen under a “big umbrella” activity.   The e-mail sent to staff read –

Community Engagement events are about participating in community life rather than providing or promoting library materials and services.  It’s possible to have a community engagement event with program and outreach components.  Let’s use the Teen Job Fair as an example.  This was a system-wide event not tied to one particular branch.

  • Teen Job Fair – 23 March 2013 – numbers were gathered by Mary Mollner, the library’s liaison, and reported to Julie Humphrey, Youth and Family Services Manager.  Mary reported the number of events (just recorded as one event – the Teen Job Fair) and the total attendance.  Julie recorded these numbers as a system-wide Community Engagement event.  When the event was shown on KETV7 news that night, the only library mention was “Sponsored by the Omaha Public Library”
  • Resume Writing and Job Interviewing workshops at various branches before March 23rd – recorded as Programs at the branches where they were held
  • Resume Writing and Job Interviewing workshops at non-library locations (i.e., after school programs, community events, etc.) before March 23rd – recorded as Outreach by the staff member at his or her branch

Posted by Theresa Jehlik, Project Manager

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